How to Know When You Know

And How to Know When You Don’t Know

Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God. (1 Corinthians 8:1-3)

The conversation over Biblical worldview is expanding rapidly. Every week new books appear, new conferences and seminars are advertised, and more people are taking up the conversation concerning how the faith of Jesus Christ applies to every area of human life and interest. These are exciting times, and I can only believe that the discussions now being held and the conversations being engaged over the subject of Biblical worldview will bear fruit in a broad, beautiful, hopeful, and compelling witness for Christ in the days to come.

But there’s a caveat we need to keep in mind along the way. I get the impression sometimes that for many of those engaging in this conversation, “Biblical worldview” refers to a raft of propositions to be developed, adumbrated, embraced, proclaimed, and defended against the unbelieving worldviews of our day—a category of knowledge, a system of beliefs or views about reality that we propose in contradistinction to the manifestly bankrupt worldviews of our modernist/postmodernist generation. Worldview equates to knowledge for many people. When you know the Biblical worldview, your job is to propound and defend it against all comers.

Certainly this apologetic dimension is part of what we intend by pursuing this conversation over Biblical worldview. We want the followers of Jesus Christ to understand the full ramifications of His Lordship, the profound implications of His all-embracing truth, and the utter beauty and goodness of the system of faith that we have received from the Apostles and the grand tradition of our forebears.

But the Scriptures never equate knowledge with knowing, and, in Biblical terms, the latter is by far the more important idea. Anyone can get knowledge; only those who make proper use of it can arrive at a place of knowing.

So how can we know when we know, as well as when we don’t know?

We have not yet arrived at the place that God intends for us if all we possess is an understanding of the issues, principles, perspectives, arguments, and conclusions on any given subject. The Corinthians queried Paul about eating food that had been sacrificed to idols. They had reasoned to the conclusion that, since idols aren’t real and only God is true (v. 4), it was okay under any circumstance to eat food offered to idols—which were typically the best cuts available in the market.

Paul said such “knowledge” was not complete—it was not true knowing—because it failed to take account of the perspective of a younger and less informed believer who, seeing us eat meat offered to idols, might reach the wrong conclusion about idols, or might eat such food to please their more mature Christian friends and, in the process, compromise their consciences before the Lord (vv. 7-11). In such a case, all that knowledge they possessed would do nothing more than lead them to sin against their brethren (v. 12). Knowledge, as an abstract commodity, is insufficient to satisfy the demands of a true Biblical worldview.

Or take the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, for example, in the story of the man born blind whom Jesus healed (John 9). They knew about the Sabbath and everything that keeping it required, and they knew Moses’ teaching and what the Scriptures had to say about the provenance of the Messiah. They used their knowledge to deny the claims of Christ, to lord it over the people in their care, and to perpetrate an injustice against an innocent man. For all the knowledge they possessed—and no one in their day knew the Scriptures better—their worldview was deficient because their knowledge led them to act in a manner contrary to the purposes of God.

Furthermore, they were not open to instruction (vv. 24-34). They were the keepers of knowledge, by golly, and no upstart backwoods prophet nor any enthusiastic follower of His was going to budge them one inch from their settled conclusions.

So we can know that we do not yet know when (1) our knowledge fails to take account of the requirements of love; (2) we try to dominate rather than serve others by what we think we know; and (3) we refuse to examine our settled conclusions and seek further insight into the wisdom and purposes of God.

Mere knowledge, therefore, is not the end of a Biblical worldview. We’re not just interested in stuffing people’s heads with information—be it ever so valid and true—if that knowledge does not lead to love and a desire to know even more.

We can know that we are beginning to know when, as Paul indicates, and the story of the man born blind makes clear, we are putting what we know to use in caring for and serving others, we hunger to know even more so that we may serve even better, and our knowledge leads us to the ultimate goal of loving and worshiping God aright. Let’s unpack this a bit more.

First, we may say that we truly know something not when we have passed a test on the content of our knowledge, but when we have passed the test of what we do with it. God has been pleased to arrange the work of teaching in the church so that those who are properly taught take up the work of ministering God’s grace and truth to others (Ephesians 4:11, 12). The knowledge we gain in our reading, study, and conversations is of no value per se; it becomes valuable when we are able to put it to use in reaching out to others in love. The goal of all teaching and learning must be growth in sincere, unhypocritical, real and vibrant faith, expressed in loving service to others. If the knowledge you acquire concerning any subject, from any source or venue, does not lead to loving service toward others, that knowledge is doing you no good. Indeed, if that knowledge is not channeled into acts of love, it may do little more than puff you up—encourage you to try to impress others with your knowledge, rather than to serve them. Which is nothing more than bald self-love.

Second, we can know that we truly are beginning to know when we just can’t seem to get enough of what God wants to feed us. It’s not that we don’t arrive at some settled convictions—Jesus is God, His Word is truth, He reigns and is returning, sanctification is by His Word and Spirit, and so forth. Rather, it is that we never grow weary of talking about such matters, or reading and studying them afresh, looking for new insights and perspectives, hearing others’ experiences of such profound truths, and augmenting and embellishing them with new and richer insights from other areas of God’s truth. None of us are expert in God’s truth, nor will we ever be; so let us maintain the attitude of little children toward the Word of God, and always hunger for more and more of the Lord’s beautiful and good truth (1 Peter 2:1-3).

Third, we can know that we truly know when our reading and study leads us more consistently and profoundly to worship. The man born blind, whom Jesus healed, fell down before Him in worship when he understood that Jesus was the Son of Man (John 9:38). All true knowledge, when it is true and complete, is knowledge of God in one sense. Jesus described eternal life—the whole glorious experience of being forgiven and saved, taught by the Word and filled with the Spirit, growing in grace and reaching out in ministry, and all the rest—as knowing God and Jesus Christ (John 17:3). Because all truth is God’s truth, and all knowledge comes from Him, everything we might learn should reveal something to us about the Lord, and we must not rest in our studies until the subject under consideration opens up to us the mysteries concerning God and Jesus Christ that it holds. Then, when we have truly come to know, we will worship God, and we will know that our knowledge is something more than what merely puffs us up.

The Bible makes a clear and important distinction between knowledge and knowing. Mere knowledge is of no ultimate value. Not even knowledge of the one true God, as the trembling demons understand (James 2:19). Merely gaining a working knowledge of the propositions and positions involved in holding to a Biblical worldview will be of no real value to you unless that knowledge results in real knowing.

And, ultimately, the form of knowing we desire most is knowing God, growing in the gift of eternal life, seeing Him with eyes no longer blind, minds open and eager, hearts growing in fervor for Him day by day. To see God as He is, in all His triune glory, to encounter Him in His glory is to “to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19), as Paul put it. We can know that we truly know, and that we have moved beyond mere knowledge, when this One, this God, this King and Savior and Lord is increasingly the focus of all our conscious thought and the deepest longing of our hearts.

Here’s how the Greek reads for 1 Corinthians 8:3 (bear with me—this is instructive): “But if anyone loves God, this one is known by him.” The text does not say, “he is known by God,” as the ESV and other versions have it. It says “this one”—that is, the one most recently mentioned, namely, God—“is known by him”—that, is the one who loves God. The one who loves God shows that God is truly known by him. Knowing God equates to loving Him, which, in turn, motivates and empowers us to love others. Pure and simple.

We know that we truly know when we love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and when that leads us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Everything short of that is knowledge waiting to be nurtured into maturity before it spoils on the vine and turns into the rottenness of self-love.

How are you trying to bringing knowledge to knowing in your own life? What would that look like, more consistently worked out each day?

T. M. Moore is a fellow of the Wilberforce Forum and dean of the Forum’s Centurion Program. He also serves as principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic tradition. T. M. is editor of the series, Jonathan Edwards for Today’s Reader (P & R), the latest volume of which is Pursuing Holiness in the Lord. His latest books are The Legacy of Patrick and The Law of God: A Compilation (both from Waxed Tablet Publications). He and his wife and editor, Susie, make their home in Concord, Tenn. He can be reached at All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (Crossway).


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